Grief can strike people in many different ways, and at different times. As I continue to look at the five stages of grief, I am reminded that it’s different for everyone. But what’s important to remember and recognize is that there is no right way to go through the grief process.
Bargaining may not come directly after anger
, but it would make sense that it could. Anger is typically directed outward, and bargaining is more of an internal process. For people who believe in a higher power, they might be praying for a reversal of their disability in exchange for something else.
is a normal reaction to the helplessness and vulnerability a person feels after becoming disabled. This is the stage of grief where a person has false hope that they can do something to fix whatever has gone wrong. Many people have thoughts of "what if." “What if I had said or done something differently?” They play scenes of a horrific accident or illness over and over in their heads as if they could create a different outcome. People do this in an attempt to negotiate away the pain.
In the bargaining stage, you may find yourself intensely focused on what you or others could have done differently to prevent a loss or change. You might also find yourself fantasizing about how perfect your life would be had the unpleasant situation never happened.
I know I dreamed of how perfect my college career and my life would have gone if I had not been shot that terrible night in 1987
. The purpose of the bargaining phase of grief is to provide a temporary escape from the current painful reality. Each stage of the grieving process provides a person with time to shift to an extreme change in their existence. This includes a terminal diagnosis, the death of a loved one or the loss of function in one's own body. As painful as these stages are, they each serve a purpose and can lead to a new way of living.
Feelings of guilt often accompany bargaining. In my case, I thought a lot about how I almost didn't go out that night. How I wished I had listened to my instincts and stayed home! I also had regret about where we parked. What if I parked across the street? Maybe then we could have been spared the terrible fate of being the victims of an armed robbery. My boyfriend, Mike, had his mountain of guilt too. He often said in the months following the shooting that he wished he had not pushed so hard for us to go to Tabby's Blue's Box that night. He had enormous guilt about pulling the loaded gun away from his temple. Was there a chance if he had cooperated I would not have been shot in the back? These are classic examples of the bargaining stage of grief.
Looking for a cure can also occur in the "bargaining" stage of grief. People would pay large amounts of money if there were a way to buy a cure for their particular disability. There have been legitimate advancements in the search for a cure for spinal cord injury, as well as significant advancements towards a cure for ALS, Parkinson's, Muscular Dystrophy and many other diseases using stem cells. While some research
holds the promise of a cure in the future, no cures are available YET.
You may remember from my first two blogs in this series, on denial
, these stages don't come in a particular order or last for a specific period of time. Some people may skip stages, or not experience them at all. There is no "normal" way to grieve.
"Our grief is as individual as our lives."
I think that sums up the experiences of grief nicely. Even the word "stage" is deceiving because a person may not experience bargaining for an extended time. It can exist for a minute, month, a year or never happen at all.
Tips For Dealing with the Bargaining Phase
From my experience as a social worker – specifically working with those who are recently disabled – and my own experience, I found there are some universal ways to get through the bargaining stage.
- Understand that bargaining is normal and serves an essential purpose. It provides a temporary escape from a person's pain and provides hope. This gives the brain some time to adjust to a new way of living.
- Express your bargaining thoughts and hopes. It is better to tell friends and family than to hold those thoughts inside. As I have said before, join a support group. When you share your thoughts with other people who are having the same experience, it helps to normalize the bargaining phase.
- If you are feeling stuck in the bargaining phase, it's time to seek assistance from a counselor or a social worker. There is no shame in seeking professional help. You have been through a catastrophic life event, and asking for help is a healthy thing to do.
I thinking to talk about common experiences, like the bargaining phase of grief, is helpful. Everyone experiences these phases differently, but hearing about the experiences of others can normalize your feelings.
When I was going through all of these emotions in the years just after being shot, I often felt alone. I hope that by sharing my experiences helps you to feel less isolated. Please join a support group in your area if you feel yourself struggling. It can be one that is specific to your diagnosis or you can usually find a grief recovery support group close to home. If local availability or transportation is a problem there are many Facebook support groups that are helpful. I am a part of Spinal Cord Injury USA
, Spinal Cord Peer Support USA
, and Wheel Mommies
. I hope this helps you on your journey to a new and amazing life. Go and life your best Life Possible!
Next up in the series, I’ll talk about depression
– which unfortunately can be unavoidable when recently disabled. It’s a hard feeling to talk about, but it’s perhaps the most important to discuss.